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Presidential Succession - 2010

On 11 February 2011 President Mubarak resigned. On 13 February 2011 Egypt's military authorities said they were dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution. In a statement on state TV, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it would stay in power for six months, or until elections.

President Mubarak began his fifth 6-year term in September 2005. The next presidential election was due to be held in September 2011. By the time Mubarak served his full term, there may be other candidates in the wings. Mubarak was on record as saying, in a November 2006 speech, that he planned to remain president "as long as I have a heart that beats, and breath in my body."

The Egyptian public, the press, and the country's opposition took the news that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will run for sixth term as president in 2011 with little surprise, despite rumors about his health. News that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will be running for a sixth term as president made headlines in the Egyptian press 22 October 2010, but appeared not to have caught either the public or the opposition by surprise. President Mubarak underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder in Germany in March 2010. Rumors that he remained ill have persisted, despite affirmations to the contrary by his entourage. Speculation that his son Gamal will succeed him continues to keep many guessing. Egyptian leaders historically remain in office until they die. Mubarak, who has been in office since 1981, took over after the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat. Prior to that, veteran President Gamal Abdal Nasser died in office in 1970.

Whoever Egypt's next president is, he would inevitably be politically weaker than Mubarak, and once he has assumed the post, among his first priorities will be to cement his position and build popular support. It may be anticipated that the new president may sound an initial anti-American tone in his public rhetoric, in an effort to prove his nationalist bona fides to the Egyptian street, and distance himself from Mubarak's policies. If history is any guide, it may also be expected that the new president will extend an olive branch to the muslim brotherhood, as did Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar el Sadat, and Mubarak early in all of their terms, in an effort to co-opt potential opposition, and boost popularity.

The legal/electoral stage was rearranged in 2005 with the amendment of Article 76 of the constitution. This guaranteed that the ruling NDP, increasingly dominated by Gamal and his allies, will retain their lock on the presidency. Of all 20 of Egypt's legally recognized parties, only the NDP currently meets the conditions as defined in the amendment to field a presidential candidate. (The rules set forth in the amendment state that only parties holding five percent or more of the seats in each of the People's Assembly and the Shura Council. The bar is set higher for independents, who must obtain endorsements from 65 PA members, 25 Shura Council members, and 10 local council members from each of at least 14 of the 26 provinces.)

Among the April 2007 constitutional amendments was a notable change to the article determining which official assumes power in the event of the temporary incapacitation of the president. Article 82, which previously delineated that the vice-president should assume presidential powers "if on account of any temporary obstacle the president is unable to carry out his duties," has been amended so that, if there is no vice-president [which for many years under Mubarak there had not been], the prime minister is assigned presidential powers. Article 84 reads, "in case of the vacancy of the presidential office or the permanent disability of the president," the president of the People's Assembly (PA) or the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court should temporarily assume the presidency. Neither would subsequently be allowed to nominate himself for the presidency; there is no such stipulation against the PM running for the office. Article 84 goes on to stipulate that, "the president of the republic shall be chosen within a maximum period of 60 days from the day of the vacancy of the presidency."

Constitutional article 76, which previously wired the egyptian electoral framework to guarantee the presidency to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), was also among the articles amended in April 2007. The change will ostensibly facilitate more competitive presidential elections, while still protecting against any serious challenge to the NDP candidate. Under the revisions to article 76, for an interim 10-year period (i.e. until 2017), legal political parties which hold an elected seat in the People's Assembly or Shura Council can nominate a presidential candidate (currently, only four parties meet this requirement - the NDP, al-Ghad, al-Wafd, and Taggamu).

Following the interim period, in order to run a presidential candidate:

  • a party has to have been in existence for at least 5 years prior to the election;
  • its candidate must have been a member of the highest leadership body of the party for at least 1 year; and,
  • the party would have to hold at least 3% of the seats in both parliamentary houses (i.e., 14 seats in the People's Assembly, and 6 seats in the Shura Council), or 6% of the seats in either the PA or Shura Council).

Genuinely independent candidates faced an almost impossible bar to enter the race. To compete in the next presidential election, article 76 states that an "independent" must obtain endorsements from 250 elected members of Egypt's national and local representative bodies, of which there must be a minimum of 65 endorsements from members of the Peoples Assembly, 25 from the Shura Council, and 10 from local councils in at least 14 governorates. This would be a near unattainable feat for a non-ndp candidate to achieve, given the ruling party's domination of all Egyptian elected bodies. In effect, the provisions of article 76 accomplish two objectives regarding independents: the ruling party can block the emergence of any genuinely "independent" candidate, while it could theoretically reach beyond the NDP's top leadership to select an "independent" whom the ruling elite judges will best protect their interests, provided the NDP retains party discipline.

The two most well-known figures in Egypt, after President Mubarak, were Mohammed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa, so it was natural to hear talk of their possible candidacies. Egyptian parlor speculation focused on the following as possible successors.

Amre Moussa
Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, is popular due to what he used to do as a foreign minister. People like him and trust him. The charismatic Arab League secretary general prudently has never indicated intention or ambition to enter into Egypt's domestic political fray, and has no Egyptian institutional political platform from which to spring. However, as the high-profile elder statesman of Arab causes, he enjoys considerable street credibility, popularity, and perceived gravitas. Moussa's assumption of another five year term as Arab League secretary general could be alternately interpreted as keeping him "otherwise occupied" or "still in the game," with respect to future political positions, but he has never offered any hint that he intends to wade into Egypt's domestic political scene. It is far-fetched but conceivable that, in a leadership crisis, Moussa could emerge as a presidential contender, provided that he is an NDP member, or if the NDP were to promote him under the constitutional provisions allowed for independent candidates.

Mohamed ElBaradei
Mohammed ElBaradei is a well-known figure because of his long-career abroad with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. The Nobel Peace laureate and former Egyptian diplomat has gained international attention as a vocal critic of Mr. Mubarak and his government. ElBaradei says he hopes to plant the seeds of democratic reform in Egypt, amid a climate of corruption and stagnation. An enthusiastic crowd met him Saturday at Cairo airport as he returned home February 22, 2010 after a long absence. The recently retired head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammed ElBaradei met with Arab League head Amr Moussa in Cairo, apparently to discuss his political future. It is widely rumored that ElBaradei hopes to run for president of Egypt in 2011. ElBaradei founded the nonpartisan movement National Association for Change, and has offered to lead a transitional administration in Egypt if Mr. Mubarak steps down.

Gamal Mubarak
Cairene conventional wisdom held that Gamal wanted the job, despite his repeated denials to the contrary. Many in the Egyptian elite saw Gamal Mubarak's succession as positive, as his likely continuation of the status quo would serve their business and political interests. Given the legal requirements for candidacy, and weak opposition leadership, there were few other Egyptian personalities with the national stature and political capital to seriously contend for the presidency. Likewise, due to the paranoia of the Egyptian dictatorship, no other name could safely or respectfully be bruited as a contender. While the president's son was vulnerable to open criticism for his presumed ambition, he was the only person in Egypt whose total loyalty to Mubarak was also taken for granted, so his was the only name that can possibly be bandied about. Although there is widespread popular animus against a Gamal candidacy, with many Egyptians opining proudly that, "we are not Syria or Saudi!", the NDP machinery could likely stage an electoral victory, based on poor voter turnout, sloppy voter lists, and state control of the election apparatus.

Omar Soliman
Long-time Mubarak consigliere Omar Suleiman (also spelled Omar Soliman, Omar Sulaiman, Omar Suleiman and seldom Umar Sulayman) in past years was often cited as likely to be named to the long-vacant vice-presidential post. Since 2005 Soliman had stepped out of the shadows, and allowed himself to be photographed, and his meetings with foreign leaders reported. He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism. Suleiman mediated the June 2008 Israel-Hamas cease fireand indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on a prisoner exchange for Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas captured in June 2006. Soliman, because of his military background, would at the least have to figure in any succession scenario, possibly as a transitional figure. Soliman himself adamantly denies any personal ambitions, but his interest and dedication to national service is obvious. His loyalty to Mubarak seemed rock-solid. At age 75 [in 2011], he could be attractive to the ruling apparatus and the public at large as a reliable figure unlikely to harbor ambitions for another multi-decade presidency. It is said that Soliman "detests" the idea of Gamal as president, and that he also was "deeply personally hurt" by Mubarak, who promised to name him vice-president several years ago, but then reneged.

Military Officer
Currently, there is no obvious contender from among the officer corps, Egypt's traditional presidential recruitment grounds. Minister of defense Tantawi, a contemporary of Mubarak's, appears to harbor no political ambitions. In the event of a national leadership crisis, it is near inconceivable that given Mubarak's personal manipulation of the office corps, that another military officer could emerge from obscurity to assert himself as a candidate. But Tantawi and his senior coterie are not necessarily popular at mid and lower ranks, so the possibility of a mid-20th century style coup of colonels cannot be entirely discounted.

Opposition Member
Of the 10 presidential contenders in 2005, second-place al-Ghad party leader Ayman Nour served a jail term on corruption charges. The government released him in 2009 under pressure from the United States and other members of the international community. According to Egyptian law, will be banned from participating in Egyptian political life for several years following his release. The third-place finisher, al-Wafd party candidate No'man Gomaa, lost his party position following a violent and scandal-ridden leadership struggle. The other eight candidates, marginal figures to begin with, have faded back into total obscurity. Current al-Wafd leader Mahmoud Abaza is a talented politician, but at this point, does not appear to have national appeal or organizational capacity to mount a serious attempt at the presidency.

Dark Horse and Also Rans
Popular reformist minister of trade Rachid was a potential candidate, though a distinct dark horse. Nonetheless, he comes from an old and respected family and is seen by many as largely responsible for Egypt's impressive economic growth of the past years. While it is highly unlikely Rachid would take on Gamal head-to-head, observers could not discount the possibility that he willplay a role in a caretaker government, and may eentually emerge as a leader. Safwat Elsherif (NDP secretary general and Shura Council speaker), Mufeed Shehab (minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs), and Zakaria Azmy (Mubarak's de facto chief of staff) all, as senior leades of the NDP, meet the constitutional criteria to run for office. None of these grizzled NDP veterans have publicly expressed presidential aspiratons, nor do they appear to possess any capabilities to govern, nor personal constituencies. However, while unlikely, it is possible that, once Mubarak pere is out of the picture, one of them could emerge in an anti-gamal party putsch. Furthermore, most believe that any governor pushing for the presidency is a far-fetched possibility - the overwhelming majority of governors are former senior military and police officers chosen for their loyalty, far from the critical political fray in cairo, and with no power bases.

Muslim Brotherhood
While the specter of an MB presidency haunts secular Egyptians, it is highly unlikely in the immediate post-mubarak period. Under the legal framework established by Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] had no ability to put forward a presidential candidate in the event of an election. The organization does not appear to have the organized military wing necessary should it wish to attempt to seize the presidency by force. Constant oversight of the armed forces aimed at rooting out potential Islamist sympathizers means that few likely remain, although the possibility does exist that some close-mouthed MB-leaning officers are present. Overall, in the view of most Egyptian analysts, the group's approach seems to be one of patience and grass roots building of support, waiting for the day when it might come to power through popular election, or by popular demand after another presidency has foundered.

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